HOUSTON - The Minnesota Timberwolves were in the market for a capable perimeter shooter, ideally a veteran with experience in coach Rick Adelman's system to help balance a frontcourt-heavy roster. The Houston Rockets could be looking for something much, much bigger.
The teams made a move to address both needs on Tuesday, just two days before the NBA draft: The Timberwolves acquired swingman Chase Budinger from the Rockets in exchange for the 18th overall pick in the draft.
Houston went 34-32 last season and missed the playoffs for the third straight year. The Rockets now have the 14th, 16th and 18th selections in a draft that many scouts think is one of the deeper classes in years, a load of ammunition that could help them make a play for one of the stars who could be available, including Orlando center Dwight Howard or Atlanta forward Josh Smith.
It's the second straight offseason the Rockets figure to be very active in trying to add some size and skill to their frontcourt. Last year they had a deal in place that would have landed them Lakers big man Pau Gasol, but NBA Commissioner David Stern, acting on behalf of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets, nixed the trade, which would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is once again making a serious push in search of a blockbuster deal to push them back into contender status in the Western Conference.
The Timberwolves see themselves as a team on the rise behind Adelman, point guard Ricky Rubio and power forward Kevin Love. The Wolves faded late last season after Rubio went down with a knee injury, exposing the roster as one with too many point guards, power forwards and centers, and not enough playmakers and shooters on the wings.
Michael Beasley struggled with injuries and inconsistency, Wes Johnson couldn't find his shooting stroke and Martell Webster never got fully into the groove after preseason back surgery.
Budinger should help. He averaged 9.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and shot 40.2 percent from 3-point range in his third season with the Rockets. The former second-round pick out of Arizona played his first two seasons under Adelman in Houston, so he has familiarity in the coach's corner offense and has demonstrated the ability to knock down open jump shots.
"Chase knows Rick Adelman's system well after playing for him in Houston, and he will be a good fit on our team," Timberwolves president David Kahn said in a statement issued by the team.
The 6-foot-7 Budinger, who has participated in the slam dunk contest during All-Star weekend, also has the athleticism to get to the basket and a knack for moving without the ball.
"Chase was an integral part of our team in Houston my last two years as coach there," Adelman said. "He will help our perimeter game with his athleticism and shooting ability. Chase's game has improved in each of his first three seasons in the NBA and we look forward to that continuing here in Minnesota."
The Rockets also included the rights to Israeli Lior Eliyahu in the deal, which was first reported by Yahoo Sports.
The trade is further evidence of Adelman's role in personnel matters with the Timberwolves. As the season drew to a close, Adelman lobbied hard for the team to add more veterans. He wasn't interested in bringing another rookie, especially with a fairly low draft pick, into one of the youngest teams in the league, and his familiarity with Budinger no doubt encouraged Kahn to make the deal.
Kahn said at season's end that he fully expected to work closely with Adelman to target veteran players during an important summer for the franchise. The early returns support that, with other deals either in trades or free agency sure to come.
The trade also helps Minnesota from a financial perspective. Budinger is due to make $942,000 next season and could become a free agent after next season. The modest salary gives the Wolves more salary cap room than a guaranteed three-year deal for a first-round draft pick, which could open up their options for other moves in free agency, which begins July 1, or through trades.
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